The French version of the Island says a lot about our culture and how it influences the church

In recent weeks, we have watched the French version of the Island. It gives a good insight into our individualistic culture, and how it influences the church. French church life is strangely similar to this show.

The Island is a reality TV show where a group of 15 men or 15 women are left on a tropical Island with minimal equipment and knowledge. They must survive for 28 days. Each member of the team can choose to leave when they want. It is not a competition where the strongest stays at the end. The goal is that the team works together and finishes the experience.

A rejection of all forms of structures

One thing that struck me is that the teams refuse all forms of structure. Each time someone comes out as more competent than the others to lead the team, he must quickly face the rebellion of some members of the team: who are you? Who appointed you as our leader? Very quickly, factions arise. The men’s team separated in two groups a few days after the start of the experience. The women are a doing bit better, but not much.

French Christians also are suspicious of leadership and structures. Even when someone’s gifts have been recognised by the church and the person has been elected by the majority, his authority will be constantly challenged by some who wish the church was some kind of utopia where there is no structure and everyone lives at peace. If you are a pastor or an elder, you have to make sure you do not lead. The diversity of church backgrounds make it difficult to lead anyway. You often find conservative evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics in the same church, and each want to push his/her own agenda, regardless of the others. I suppose it keeps us humble. But in the meantime, not much gets really done, and there are few conversions.

Church is a voluntary organisation

People join the Island on a voluntary basis. Members can opt out whenever they want. On the men’s Island, a young man left after a couple of days. he couldn’t cope with the hunger. On the women’s Island, one of the team members decided that she didn’t want to continue after a couple of weeks. She was healthy, competent and helpful. But the experience didn’t match her expectations. She secretly contacted the production so that she could be picked up the next day.

French people also see church as a voluntary organisation. You choose to join a church, and you choose to leave it if the experience doesn’t match your expectations. It is all very subjective. If you don’t get on with someone, you don’t try to work it out. You simply walk out of the situation, and join another church, or not.

Probably the French administration system is unhelpful here. To be a church you must form an association. You have all sorts of associations in France, all of them voluntary organisations. You can join and leave freely.

And there is that one guy

Then there is the guy who is so proud to say that he speaks his mind. He is selfish and proud. He creates havoc in the team by making all sorts of comments. He thinks it is always helpful to point everything that he thinks is wrong. But it isn’t. The only thing he manages to do is to to isolate himself from the rest of the group. He ends up on his own. The others are wrong, he is right. In real life, he a social worker who works as a mediator, arbitrating conflicts.

I find it disturbing to realise the impact of our individualistic culture on our church lives. The participants of the Island are not Christians, yet, if you look at a church, you find the same worldviews, the same tensions, the same problems.


A republican breakfast

Before the summer, the local council put the symbols of the French Republic : “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” on the schools of our small town . More recently, they added the French flag, next to these symbols. Throughout France, all state schools now have these symbols. It is part of an initiative from the government to reinforce the values of the republic following the January 2015 terrorist attacks.

Reinforcing values of the French Republic

The January terror attack against Charlie hebdo shook the French people. They felt their whole value system was being attacked. What made it worst was that the two terrorists behind the attack were born and brought up in France. Somehow, somewhere, the French education system has failed, and the government is trying to reinforce the values of the French republic in the schools. Putting the republican symbols on the walls of the schools is one step toward this goal. It is also an attempt to reinforce unity in a country that is deeply divided. Teachers must also talk about the French values in class and discuss it with the children.Drapeaux_français

Inaugurating the symbols

Our local town council wanted to mark the occasion by organizing a short ceremony in each school, around these symbols. They initially planned to do it at the end of the day, without the parents. That’s how they did it in the two other schools of the town. But our school council thought it would b a good idea to include as many parents as possible. We asked the town council if we could organize an event with as many parents as possible, on Wednesdays morning, before classes start. Usually there are more parents available on Wednesdays.

So, this morning, parents and children were invited to share a republican breakfast and hear a short speech from our mayor. the children had learned la Marseillaise. They also sang le chant des partisans, an anthem of the French resistance. A few also sang les Allobroges, the anthem of Savoy, our region.

Interested parents

About 30 parents turned up, which is very good. Those I spoke to thought it was a good idea and enjoyed the ceremony. It gives a sense of community one of them said. The event had been planned before the 13th November attack, but the timing was perfect and one of the councilors gave a good word about these.

Now the question is: will reinforcing the values of the republic help integrating those who feel they are on the margin of French society ? I doubt the answer is as simple as that. But it is a start.


There will be an extra class on Monday

The children went back to school on Monday. It went well. They were happy to go back. In the primary school, we learned that there was 140 children in 5 classes. That would make it a bit tight, and more difficult to work, with an average of 28 kids per classroom. The headmistress told us that there was still a possibility for an extra teacher to be nominated on wednesday.

It happened. An extra class will be opened and the new teacher is arriving tomorrow to prepare his/her classroom. That’s good news. It is France, and some of the parents and teachers would have been very unhappy. You regularly hear of demonstrations in schools at this time of the year.

That was a long drive

We are in Carmarthen, in West Wales. When we initially thought of coming to Wales for the winter holidays, we were still living in Brittany and we didn’t imagine we would move away so soon and so quickly. But now, we live a long way from Wales. It took us the most part of 2 days to do the 1380 km journey. We travelled through France to Calais on empty motorways. After crossing the channel, we crossed the south of England to Wales on not too busy motorways. We are glad to be here though. I’ve got a few meetings to take here, and two more in North Wales next week.

How far will you go to learn Ongota ? Or Welsh, or Breton.

J.D. Payne, in a recent article challenges us to ask ourselves how far we are ready to go to reach a minority people with the gospel. The article is worth a read, see the link below.

Ongota is one of the world’s rarest languages. Only twelve people speak it. I doubt you will ever need to learn it.

But if you needed to for gospel advancement, would you? Would you truly put out the effort and make the sacrifice–for only twelve people?

J. D Payne How far will we go learn Ongota?

Even before we first moved to Brittany, I knew that I wanted to learn some Breton language. Living several years in Wales and marrying a Welsh girl was certainly an incentive. I had also learned Welsh, and it couldn’t be that difficult to learn some Breton.

Yet, when we got there, the local Christians were less than keen. Some thought the idea was weird. Many laughed at the idea. Apart from the fact that the majority of Christians in Brittany are not from Brittany, even those Christians who spoke Breton were fairly negative about the idea. The Breton language was on its death-bed. Everyone spoke French anyway, why bother.

Yet, the conviction remained. Even if I would never speak fluently, I was convinced that showing an interest in the people of Brittany and their language would open some doors to the gospel, and it did. After three years, I had made a group of friends and the door was wide open. I had many opportunities to share the gospel, because I had taken the time to learn some of the language and tried to understand the Breton people.

It is just sad that, as far as I am aware, hardly any-one in France seem to see the importance of showing at least some interest in the various local languages, especially those with a significant number of speakers like Breton, Alsatian or Basque.